For years, Pittsfield firefighters have relied on pagers to communicate with each other during fires and emergencies.
But in a nod to more modern technology, Pittsfield Fire Department recently implemented an emergency response system that broadcasts dispatch notifications to firefighters’ cellphones, a tool designed to streamline processes and save the department funds in the long term.
While an alert system remains critical for departments to fight fires, some pagers have run their course — obsolete to the point of departments not being able to find the parts any more to fix them — forcing emergency responders to explore more contemporary technologies to efficiently do their jobs. Fire departments throughout Maine rely on the cellphone system IamResponding to answer calls for help quickly. Although the web-based system isn’t new, Pittsfield is the latest fire department in Somerset County to ditch pagers and employ the tool.
After a monthlong trial period, the department purchased the system, Pittsfield Fire Chief Bernard Williams said.
The fire chief spoke at the Pittsfield Town Council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 19, about the benefits of the IamResponding app, which he said is more cost-effective than the pagers the department has used for years.
“These pagers have gone up to $400 apiece,” he said. “They get banged and thrashed and as they get older, the maintenance becomes more costly.”
Councilor Michael Cianchette asked if the fire department would immediately eliminate the pagers if the council passed a resolution to move ahead with the subscription agreement.
“We’ll continue to use them until they break,” Williams said. “We won’t repair them and we won’t replace them.”
The department has about 18 to 20 working pagers, the chief said, but manufacturers have ceased making parts to repair the devices.
Pittsfield Fire Captain Don Chute said the system is beneficial. Chute also serves as chief at Detroit Fire and Rescue, which uses the system.
“They hit a button on their phone and I know who’s coming to a fire,” he said. “I can know right away when I come into the fire station if I have to call mutual aid.”
The app’s mapping program allows fire departments to import fire hydrants that are then color-coded by flow rate, he said. It also displays incident locations, provides directions and allows firefighters to message and send emails as well.
Fire departments throughout Penobscot, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties have implemented the system, Chute said.
Councilors amended the resolution to include a five-year subscription to IamResponding. The system will cost $355 annually, plus setup fees.
The amended resolution passed 6-1, with Cianchette opposed.
Most Pittsfield firefighters seem to like the system, though the department is still learning how to use all of the app’s features, Williams said Friday.
“Of course there are those people who are in love with cellphones and electronic gadgets who like it,” he said. “For people who just want to pick up their phone and call somebody, there’s a learning curve.”